While many of us are good about seeing regular doctors and going to dentist appointments (OK, maybe not dentists), too many of us do not take care of our sexual health the way we do the rest of our minds and bodies. World Sexual Health Day was on September 4, and even though it's over, it serves as a good reminder to step up your sexual health game.
Part of the problem is the lack of sexual education and awareness. If you don't receive proper sex education, whether at school or at home, you may not know of the risks involved and the best ways to look after yourself. But the internet is an amazing tool — obviously not in a believing everything you read on the internet sense — but it can point in the direction of knowledgable, authoritative advice. Sometimes it's apathy, sometimes it's fear, but something keeps too many of us from having the best sexual health we could have.
The first thing to remember is that if you have a problem — an STI, a pain, or a plain old yeast infection — it's nothing to be ashamed of. Trust me. So many people have them and just don't talk about them. So remember: no shame. Now with that in mind, here are seven ways to improve your sexual health, according to experts, because you are definitely worth it:
1. Read Up
There's such a taboo around sexual health, and it means that a lot of people are just not informed — meaning they think STIs and sexual health problems are just things that happen to other people. Not true. Did you know one in two people are under the age of 26 will contract an STI? Or that one in four teenagers will? The Center For Disease Control has some amazing stats on STIs and Planned Parenthood is my go-to site for information about sexual health.
2. Ask Questions
There really is no question too basic or too silly to ask regarding sex or sexual health. Especially if you lacked sufficient sexual education in schools, it's important to find advice about how to stay happy and healthy. If you're not lucky enough to have a parent willing to talk about with you or you don't feel comfortable asking them, there are still options.
Planned Parenthood and places like the GSA Alliance do great work. "Youth leaders involved in GSA Network's programs learn how to advocate for policy change and have gone to Sacramento to talk to policymakers on this relevance and necessity of comprehensive sex ed," a representative from GSA Network's L.A. location tells Bustle. "Comprehensive sex ed that includes culturally relevant and LGBTQ-inclusive information is one important piece of fighting for safer schools and schools where students are actually educated to lead healthy and successful lives." So there are options out there, just don't be afraid to ask.
3. Get Techy
Another option to help you learn and keep tabs on sexual health is to go the techy route. Apps like Tabú are aiming at bringing sexual health and education to people who need it. “Part of the reason we really wanted to create this app is that sex, sexuality, and gender all kind of get lumped in with other topics,” Mia Davis, founder of the Tabú app tells Bustle. “Whether that’s periods or relationships, it all kind of gets lumped together and as a result there’s not enough information or time dedicated to it. But it is an area where people have a lot of questions and insecurities and it can make a really big difference in people’s lives.”
4. Talk To Your Partner
You need to talk to your partner about sex — for your sexual health and the health of your relationship. “Being comfortable discussing your fantasies, your preferences, as well as the things that aren't working for you, is crucial to keeping your intimate life on track,” psychotherapist Esther Boykin tells Bustle. “Bodies change. Schedules change. Even turn-ons and desires will change with time. Be sure you have the skills to talk about those things so you don't have to worry about getting through the ups and downs of your sexual relationship with each other.” But if you're having sex with someone, you also have every right to — and should— ask them about their sexual health.
5. Know When You Need To Talk To A Doctor
Whether it's problems with sex, with an infection, or with some mystery of things just not being quite right down there, there's nothing to be embarrassed about. Most women I know have had a yeast infection that just won't quit and one point or another. But you need to know when to talk to a doctor. For example, pain during and around sex can be completely normal or it can be a sign of a larger problem.
"Everyone gets some aches and pains from time to time,” Dr. Michael Krychman, MD, OBGYN, Sexual Medicine Gynecologist and the executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine, tells Bustle. “The concern for sexual pain is when it is persistent and does not subside. If it is associated with other symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, urinary pain/frequent urination, bleeding, persistent pain, vaginal discharge that has a bad odor, fever, chills for instance may signal something more pathological is going on. When in doubt, it is always best to consult a health care professional to get a proper evaluation."
6. Go Commando
This is a personal favorite of mine because I'm a big fan of going commando. I probably wear underwear twice a month. I just do it because I like it. Of course, do what makes you feel best, but if you do feel more comfortable without it, the good news is that experts say there are some health benefits to the ventilation. "Allowing the air to hit this area is important because it stops the moisture trapped by our underwear from causing a yeast infection and skin irritation externally," Cindy Barshop, founder and beauty, sexual health expert of VSPOT Medi-Spa tells Bustle. And if you've ever tried to do marathon training while wearing underwear, you'll know why I stopped. No underwear means way less chaffing.
7. Be Prepared
Bottom line? The best advice I can give you for your sexual health is to be knowledgeable and to be prepared. "If you know that sex is going to happen, might as well be prepared for it, Emily Morse, sex expert and host of sex and relationship advice podcast "Sex with Emily," tells Bustle. "...Avoid putting yourself through the stress of a possibly unpleasant situation by always being prepared." Carry condoms, get an IUD, take the pill — whatever works for you. Just be sure you're taking responsibility, because your sexual health is in your hands.
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